Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Today's Anxiety Attack: A Stalemate With The Demons

In previous posts I have talked about the demons I must always fight, OCD and Social Anxiety, and how insidiously spiteful they are.  Forever they watch for the slightest little chink in my armor, or that one part of a moment when I let my guard down every so slightly, and they immediately seize upon the most miniscule opportunities to immobilize and imprison me, to make the world with which I can interact just that much smaller, or to at the very least snatch away a little bit of joy.  Sometimes I win; sometimes the demons win.  Today, a rare third option materialized: we split the difference.

At the end of May, The Go-Go's are kicking off a reunion/farewell tour.  Yeah, that's right, The Go-Go's: Belinda, Charlotte, Jane, Kathy and Gina.  "We Got The Beat" and "Our Lips Are Sealed" and "Vacation."  I was always a huge Go-Go's fan, but I never did get to see them live.  As luck would have it, they are starting the tour in Hershey, PA, just over half an hour from where I am sitting at the moment!  Well, I'm not missing my last chance to say I saw The Go-Go's live when they're practically going to be in my backyard!

Through a series of emails, I invited a friend to come to the show with me, and she and I began making plans.  As I started researching ticket prices, I mentioned that The Go-Go's website was reporting that some of the shows on the tour would also feature The B-52's, but sadly Hershey was not one of those shows.  She came back with a list of the cities where The B-52's were definitely announced.   I joked that the closest was Boston, MA, and "golly, it's only a six and a half-hour drive!"

Little did I suspect she'd actually reply with an offer to go to the Boston show.  Her proposition was that if I would finally agree to get my learner's permit and start learning to drive, she would consider the Boston road trip.  I wouldn't even have to drive on the road trip itself!  She has long been after me to learn to drive, so I took this as a little needling, and said I would get the Hershey tickets tomorrow when they go on sale.
In the meantime, however, she had talked with some other friends who were potentially into the idea of a road trip to Boston, so she wanted me to hold off buying the Hershey tickets until the road trip idea was either confirmed or sacked.  The tickets aren't cheap, and doing both shows would be out of the question.

And then it hit.

The first blow came from the OCD demon.  He usually is the one to strike first.  I could immediately feel my brow knitting in consternation, and my frustration level rising.  No! No! No! This is not what I had planned.  I had planned to go to the Hershey show.  I had invited my friend to the Hershey show.   My OCD, mild as it may be in the grand scheme of things, becomes the screaming child in the restaurant who the parents can't quiet down when plans are suddenly changed on me.  Spontaneity is not a luxury I am overly familiar with.  I need to know what the plan is, and I need to stick to the plan.  I usually do have a "Plan B" and "Plan C," but in this case those alternates were other people I might invite if this friend couldn't make it.  I was utterly unprepared for the idea of changing which show to go to.  That was already decided.  My guard was down, just for that moment, and OCD seized on it: "That's the wrong show.  You're supposed to be going to the Hershey show.  Now everything is ruined.  You don't get to enjoy this!"

Then, the Social Anxiety demon joined the attack.  One of the things this demon has taken from me over the years is the ability to travel freely, especially to places I've never been.  The last real travel excursion I took was a trip to upstate New York to visit another friend who had moved there.  That was in 1996.  Since then, even when I take vacation time from work, I don't go anywhere.  Now, there are some trips that I have made regularly enough over the years that have become immune to this demon's salvos: Spending a few days in Johnstown, PA, where my employer's production division is, for example, or traveling to New Jersey or Baltimore to see a band in the usual haunts.  In each of those cases, though, returning home in the same day is not only possible, it has been done.  Boston and back in the same day is not possible, and anytime I find myself more than a cabride's distance away from home for any length of time, the panic starts to overcome me.

"You can't be away from home that long! What if something happens? What if there is a fire? What if someone breaks into your home while you're gone?  What if you get stranded wherever you're going? What if you get hopelessly lost?"  It's a great example of the thought spirals I've described before wherein there is the rational side of me that is watching this all take place, recognizes what's happening, realizes the insanity and illogic, but is utterly unable to stop it, while the irrational side of me believes and amplifies every thought that goes through my head.  "Plus, you'd be traveling with a bunch of people, some of whom you don't even know!  They're not going to like you; they're going to laugh at you; you're going to be the butt of all the jokes!  You don't get to enjoy this!"

Understand, this all hits me in a split-second's time.  These attacks are not storms that gradually roll in like my bouts of depression; these are sudden explosions that appear seemingly out of the blue.  There is no time to prepare.  I can only respond.  And so I sat there, staring at the email on my screen, feeling that god-awful feeling of my stomach lurching into my throat, feeling the unpleasant tingle of adrenalin rushing through every avenue it can find within my body, feeling my heart pound like it will surely burst from my chest, feeling my breaths grow quicker and more shallow.  And I sat there hating that I was I going through it yet again, over something so innocuous as a possible road trip to Boston with a friend to see a band that I've always wanted to see.  How can my brain be so broken?

The next response I usually have, after the anger at myself, is the embarrassment.  In this case, it came in the form of, "OK, how do I get out of the Boston idea without letting her know that I have fallen to pieces over the past five minutes like a fool?"  This is where the excuses start formulating.  A quick check of the calendar showed me that the Boston show is on a Thursday night- AHA! There's my out!  I dashed off another email to her, this one saying that a weeknight is not good for me for travel because of work.  Of course, she reminded me that I have vacation time I can use.  DAMN!  So, I came clean, and admitted to the anxiety attack I was having.

I forget sometimes that I have a wonderful network of very supportive friends, especially those who have known me for many years and who have seen me at my worst as well as at my best.  After 14 years, this friend has seen me at the farthest ends of either side of that spectrum, and yet remains my friend (though that has no doubt been very trying at times!).  So when I told her of the anxiety, and that I would really be more comfortable with the Hershey show, she simply replied, "No problem. Hershey it is."  And when I then apologized for being so damned goofy about things, her words back to me were, "Never apologize for being yourself.  You're great."   There was no judgment, there was no unsolicited advice on how to handle anxieties, there was no "Oh there, there you poor thing;" there was just a friend being a friend.  It was the perfect tonic.

So this time, instead of the usual all-or-nothing battle I wage with my demons, we can call it something of a draw. Yes, the demons won a little bit - they took the experience of a road trip to Boston away from me.  But I won a little bit, too.  I'm still going to see The Go-Go's, just as I had originally planned, so they didn't take that away, and I was reminded by a good friend that, for as much as these demons try to convince me differently, I'm really pretty OK.


Related posts:

Table For One
Fighting The Demons Again
Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. Great post, Bryan. I know you're not the only one to wrestle with these particular demons; thanks for being open enough to talk about them. That takes a lot of courage, my friend.

  2. One of the many reasons I love you! You are so open, honest, raw and vulnerable! Anyone who knows you loves you for a million different reasons, one of which is that you are who you are and don't apologize for that (not that you haven't wanted to - we all feel that at one point or another!). I can relate to so much of what you have shared and my daughter has very similar struggles also, but we have all learned that if we can push through, shove the demons aside or sneak around them, that we are often glad that we did! Thank you for always being the fabulous you that I came to adore some 20+ years ago! You were my friend, protector and the greatest big brother ever! Love you Bryan!

  3. *hugs* I get that kind of crippling anxiety. Good for you for finding a triumph in how you handled it.

    And your friend is right - you ARE great. :)

  4. Brian, you DO get to the enjoy this. I saw you typed that twice "I don't get to enjoy this." I understand that sentiment, I relate to it. While I have anxieties, they are nothing like what you have and do experience. I am glad you admitted your needs to your friend, and I am even more glad that she took it and just went with it. You have a great support system. I hope you lean on them more often. So glad that you shared with us Bryan!

  5. Wonderful, and very personal post, Bryan. You've given us a lot of insight into the disorders, and we've come away with a better understanding. As someone with a family members with problems (including a nephew with Schizophrenia) with a Social Anxiety Disorder, it was oftentimes hard to understand why they wouldn't show up at important family functions. My first reaction was always "he's just being rude" but then I'd stop myself and try and put myself in his shoes. This blog post does just that...puts us all in your shoes. Even though you're not doing the Boston road trip, I congratulate you on at least getting to Hershey. Have fun!

  6. Great post - good explanation of something that I can identify very strongly with. I have panic disorder with agoraphobia. That said, I have lived all over the country. You can do anything. If you haven't already, check out Charles Linden. His program is really helpful. It sounds like you have a strong grasp of the process of your attacks, now you just need to take the power away from them. I still struggle, and I sometimes still avoid some things. But, I find when I do things I think are undoable, it gets better. Just small steps. One day at a time. Wishing you the best. You are intelligent and creative and your mind is just too busy doing the wrong thing. It will get better.

  7. Awesome post...and, thank you for being so transparent and admitting what many of us go through in our minds and fail to admit. Hey, enjoy the Hershey and savor the fact that you had the courage to come clean with the friend instead of pushing that anxiety down to attack you another day.

  8. Wow. Great post. I don't have any personal experience with anxiety disorders, and this really helps me understand how they operate and the effects. You have a wonderful gift to be able to share this with the world -- and I might add that the thought of sharing one's soul would create intense anxiety in others, so don't discount the specialness of your strengths. It sounds like you have a great friend too -- by you sharing her response, I now know better how to react if I am in her shoes. Reading this just made me a better person. Thank you.

    (In case you are wondering, I found your blog through the CrazyWidow blog.)

  9. Thank you, everyone, for your wonderful and supportive comments. Posts like these aren't easy to write, but they are necessary - for me at least. And while I am, more often than not, terrified of hitting the "post" button after writing something like this, I am learning that sharing these experiences is not only therapeutic for me, but in some ways for others as well. Maybe that's my way to pay forward the support of my friends.

    It's often difficult to find the right words to describe the irrational thoughts that get going during these attacks. What I've described above is really only the tip of a crazy iceberg, but I hope it gives some idea of what goes on in my head. Those of you who also suffer anxiety disorders certainly understand!

    Thanks again. Your words mean more to me than you know.

  10. Hello Bryan I happened upon your blog. I was looking up demons and anxiety. Yes, they go hand and hand. I have lived with anxiety for about 30 years now. Some moments, days, months, years worse than others. However, I notice one thing. I always get through them. This does not lessen the pain they cause. My symptoms have lessened. I am reading the word of God and trusting HE is the one in control NOT me. Thank you Jesus. I am now battling separation anxiety. I believe after reading your post you have this too. Along with the what "if's" I am soooo tired of the what "if's" I am tired of anxiety period. BUT I believe the closer my walk with God the less I have them and the easier it is for me to rebuke the devil and he flees. Though I am saddened by the places I miss or the memories I can have do to this crippling fear. The odd thing is I really fear nothing. It is the symptoms of whatever.... I actually have a peace in life. I have come to learn it is my wanting to be in control. UGH!! I rebuke that word. Trust... I trust God but NOT me. The odd thing is everyone sees me as strong and able to do anything. Ha... are they fooled or am I truly what they see?? All I know is "perfect love cast out all fear" So I will put my faith in God and let HIM drive the car. HE doesn't require my help BUT I surely require HIS. Thank you Jesus. Blessings for peace in your life Bryan. And to all other who suffer the with evil spirit of anxiety. Cast that bad boy out. Amen.

  11. Thank you, Joan, on two counts! First, thank you for your thoughtful and empathetic comment; second, thank you for giving me cause to re-read this post. I am fortunate in that I have come a long way in the two years since I originally wrote this post. I won't say I've conquered my demons; no, that will be a lifelong struggle. But I can say their attacks are less frequent and less powerful as I grow better at recognizing them and coping with them. I hope for continued improvement for you as well. It's not an easy thing to share, as I'm sure you know, but sometimes merely sharing the experience lessens the impact. Hope you'll drop by and read more in the future!